Orange Roughy swam its way to our American dinner tables back in the early 1980’s. Virtually unknown at the time, our national domestic retail fish buyers were looking for a substitute for the depleted whitefish stocks (cod and haddock) that match or equal to the texture (firm), color (white) flavor profile (mild) and price point. The biomass had to be large and the name had to be marketable and compatible to our American consumers buying habits. Orange Roughy my hero!
The New Zealand fishermen accidentally found this species by performing deep water fishing techniques unproven at the time. Roughy is a deep-water species taken by trawls at depths of up to 800 fathoms (4800 ft.) The Kiwis first named this fish “Slimehead” which, as we know, would not be a great name for our domestic seafood consumers. The New Zealanders launched a marketing campaign to the American Food and Drug Administration to allow the use of the name Orange Roughy. In a short time it became New Zealand’s most important seafood export in volume terms.
Orange Roughy can live up to 150 years and reach sexual maturity at 25-30 years of age. Each female carries up to 22,000 eggs and gather in huge schools for spawning each year from late June to early August. The main breeding grounds and harvest areas are around coastal New Zealand around the Challenger Plateau, Cook Canyon and the North Chatham Rise. The underwater terrain is very rugged with hills, pinnacles and deep canyons. Fertilized eggs drift to the surface and hatch into larvae after 8-9 days. It is a mystery where the juveniles go and live. Fishermen do not encounter the fish again until they reach adult maturity 25-30 years later.
Orange Roughy catches peaked in 1988. Since then catch rates have declined as quotas have been reduced to establish a sustainable catch level. “Fresh” Orange Roughy has seen a rise in popularity in recent years with white tablecloth restaurants and trendy eclectic hip eateries on the West Coast. It has built in brand recognition with consumers from the popularity and marketing power of the retail segment. The “Mother of Pearl” raw flesh, medium to firm texture, coarse flake gives it straight A’s in cooking versatility. The delicate shellfish flavor makes its nearly identical to its cousin the John Dory (with out the heavy price point) and is fished from the same waters and has the exact markets size of 30-40 cm and average catch weight of 1.5 kg (avg 3lbs). Fresh Orange Roughy has premium eating qualities un-matched in the market place. It is a completely different experience than the mass produced frozen commodity found in the retail segment!